Â We are into Lent, which is a sad time for us. Customers come in looking a little mournful, and you try to cheer them up talking about the exciting new organic chocolate from Valrhona that’s just arrived and is truly excellent. They look even more desolate and say, “I’ve given chocolate up for Lent.” Yes, chocolate and Lent are anathema in Ireland.
As you know, chocolate is very dear to my heart, and the point of this certainly is not to undermine Lent. You might also think I’m just being greedy in a holy time, which is not the case at all. In fact, we more than make up for any loss of chocolate sales with lots of coffee (or even more tea, if customers have also given up coffee), chocolate-free cakes and ice cream. I guess people have to make up for that empty chocolate part of their soul.
Which makes me digress and think of my grandmother Kitty, who had a pub in Cork. She dreaded Lent because all the fellows gave up the drink. Mind you, they didn’t give up her pub, which did a flying trade. They gave up the porter, and for the whole period before Easter, got more sloppy drinking sherry, port, etc. than they ever would have done if they stuck with their usual pints.
No, what I question with this giving up of chocolate, and you might find this a bit literal, but as far as I know the concept of fasting had to do with meat. Look at the pre-Lenten festivals – “Carnival” means “Farewell to meat” in Latin. I’ve never heard of “Chocolate-val.” People who took a more stringent line on the fasting would also give up wine, and the real penitents would shun all animal products and basically become vegan. However, being vegan means you can eat natural bittersweet chocolate, which shouldn’t have milk in it.
In fact, I found this snippet in the Catholic Encyclopedia in reference to fasting during Lent: “…the custom has been tolerated of taking a cup of liquid (e.g., tea or coffee, or even chocolate) with a fragment of bread or toast in the early morning…”
“Hold on!” you might say. “What about chocolate eggs at Easter? Shouldn’t we undertake a penance for all the chocolate we will devour?” That’s good thinking, but perhaps such a fast is better suited to children.
If you study the history of Easter, the chocolate egg is a recent phenomenon, and the whole “eggs as renewal” metaphor was pagan anyway, as was the Eostre holiday. The druids certainly didn’t have any chocolate with which to cheer themselves up (or give up).
“But it’s an unhealthy sin! You should give up fags, drink and chocolate!” Is it unhealthy? The other two have serious health consequences, but there have been numerous studies to the contrary about chocolate. Check out CNN, Newsday, BBC, and the Irish Examiner to name just a few sources.
Now I couldn’t really say, “Eat chocolate, and do away with meat!” as I don’t eat meat anyway, and so Lent is a breeze. Besides, I feel in my heart for local butchers, who have a terrible time with the multiples squeezing them out of business, and forty days of lost sales would be more than any retailer could handle.
Still, I feel chocolate really is getting rough and perhaps mis-guided treatment… Might I suggest some sort of middle ground? The following list mixes penitence with a complementary feel-good factor:
List of Things to Give Up for Lent:
1. Chocolate with zero cocoa content
2. Pre-packaged meats from supermarkets
3. Tinned prawns
4. Wine in gallon jugs
5. UHT milk and cream
6. Processed cheeses
7. Non-free-range eggs
8. Anything with food colouring
9. Instant coffee
10. Fast food